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On Saturday, I had a colossal panic attack. Hyperventilating, palpitations, the works. Our entire world feels so terrifying right now & for those of us w/ anxiety, it is hard not to feel the sky is falling. To help me cope, I turned off social media & restricted my news intake.
We are a social species. We take our cues from other people. When we see others panicking, it tells our brains that panicking is the right thing to do.
But the thing about fear is it alters the way in which our brain works. fMRI studies show that when we are frightened, our prefrontal cortex (basically the smart part) of our brains shows reduced function. Therefore it is MUCH harder to think logically, to make good decisions.
When we are frightened, our brains revert to instinctual operating. We don't stop to analyse information, to dissect what news we are taking in for its validity. We just short circuit right to that adrenaline dump that makes you feel like you're about to leap through the roof.
The news media REALLY isn't helping! The headlines are designed to be fear inducing, the mitigating and far calmer facts buried further down the text. Trouble is, with our prefrontal cortex out of commission, we really aren't paying attention to the fine print.
We're only processing those big scary headlines. They lead to fear, which leads to even less information processing, and round and round we go.
Now, I know someone is going to tell me that those headlines are designed to get people to take this seriously. Fair enough. But in every emergency situation, denial is a major issue. When the brain can't cope with what's happening, it pretends it isn't happening.
And the more frightened we are, the more likely we are to use denial as a coping mechanism. You see the fundamental problem here?
This situation is unprecedented within my life time. I have never experienced anything like this before. Which means that my brain is desperately scrambling to build a template for how to act. That is exhausting, stressful work.
And, whilst physical health is obviously our biggest concern right now, our collective mental health is taking an absolute battering. For those with anxiety, this is like our worst nightmare come to life.
I've come off social media, because I simply couldn't cope. But, I want to help. Anyone out there, who needs support, who is frightened, reach out. I will check my twitter feed once a day and although I can't change what's happening, I can virtually hold your hand.
I encourage everyone to do the same. Let's try to make Twitter a place we can go for support. Like I said, we're social creatures. Panic is contagious. Kindness is too. If you're reading this and you're frightened, know that you're not alone and that there are people who care.
And if you want to share cute puppy videos, I'd be okay with that too.
We will get through this. This will pass. Stay kind, stay informed. When panic overwhelms you, remember to breathe. Count your breaths, focus on your footsteps, remain in the moment. Try and slow your wild brain down. Sing. Read a good book. Pet a dog. Try to laugh. You got this.
Here. Have a puppy chasing a ball. Eventually.
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